O.P.A.R. – Chapter 8: Virtues (Integrity)

“The power of the good is enormous, but depends on its consistency. That is why the good has to be an issue of “all or nothing,” “black or white,” and why evil has to be partial, occasional, “gray.” To be evil “only sometimes” is to be evil. To be good is to be good all of the time, i.e., as a matter of consistent, unbreached principle.”
Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 266.
In another life, I worked a bit with Fuzzy Logic, and I used to say that “life is fuzzy, but I am boolean” when talking about integrity. It is a hard, not always successful way of living, but the only one that allows me to sleep at night.
(Image by Kyle McDonald from Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Integrity is loyalty in action to one’s convictions and values. As Ayn Rand put it, the man of integrity may “permit no breach between body and mind, between action and thought, between his life and his convictions….” But to keep all your value-judgments ready at hand amid the turbulence of everyday life is a volitional task. And a hard one. You need to hold the full context of your knowledge in focus while retaining your long-range purposes in front of your eyes all the time. The only way you can do that is if you have integrated your knowledge and purposes into principles.


To keep action and thought in unison, you must learn the proper principles and follow them no matter what. It is exactly when the going gets tough, and your mind is being deeply affected by your feelings and biases or pushed side to side by external pressures, that you must summon all the rationality in you and simply follow your principles. It is the “principle of being principled”, Leonard Peikoff tells us.

The flexibility to change your own views of the world or opinions about life is not a breach of integrity; as long as you are doing it after due consideration while following your own intellect independently of others, it is a moral obligation to substitute a better idea for a worse one, a right one for a wrong one. It is a breach of integrity to have a given conviction about proper conduct and then concoct all sorts of rationalizations to ease your conscience and act otherwise. To know some course of action is the right one and then proceed to defy it in practice is what Ayn Rand calls “faking one’s consciousness.”

In regard to consciousness, integrity requires that you have convictions and follow them in practice. But holding explicit ideas is not enough; these ideas must be rational ones, meaning they follow right premises to a conclusion that can, thus, be proved or validated using logic. Like every other virtue, therefore, integrity presupposes a mind that seeks knowledge, a mind that accepts and follows reason.

In regard to action, the challenge of your life should not to be to struggle against immoral passions, but to see the facts of reality clearly, in full focus. Once you have done this in a given situation, there should be no further difficulty in regard to acting on what you see. Here, Peikoff is following Socrates in that true knowledge, that is, knowledge grounded of first principles and logically followed to its ultimate consequences, leads necessarily to the right action. I agree with that, while acknowledging that such kind of knowledge is not only extremely hard to reach, but also extremely hard to keep in mind. Principles, as well as art, must be pursued with all one’s strength for that purpose.

You are a man of integrity if you are an absolutist and an extremist. You are an absolutist if, while you listen to others (those whose rationality entitles them to be listened to), and may modify your behavior in order to gain their cooperation, you are not willing to bargain your morality. You are an extremist if you reject what Peikoff calls “today’s most popular attack on integrity”: the creed of compromise.

2 thoughts on “O.P.A.R. – Chapter 8: Virtues (Integrity)

  1. My question with this type of rational living is: does anyone ever actually live this way?

    To me it seems like a good ideal, but I’m not sure if it is any different than, say, having a belief system that’s called Christianity.

    For, what does it mean if at some point in your day you realize that you behaved in a manner that was inconsistent with these principles? What do you do?

    And my mind goes to : what is it that is making me have a perception of myself that is inconsistent with what it actually is?

    And I say this because I’m not sure if there are any principles that I have to live by in order to live with integrity. It seems to me that to live with integrity is exactly to live without any principles, which is to say, that the principles are dissolved in a solution so perfectly that there is no question as to whether or not one is living with integrity.

    It seems that such rationalism as the guy in your post, necessarily posits “integrity” in the context of the potential to not live with integrity.

    of course I see people around me all the time that I could probably pointto and say, they don’t have integrity or they didn’t live with integrity or something like that, but I’m not sure that I ever look at myself and say that I am existing without integrity.

    Various occasions that I involve myself with, Shirley I can make judgments about myself and say that that particular instance occurred with an integrity. But I’m not sure that I would condemn myself to say that other occasions or other instances in which I behave I wasn’t acting with integrity. I think I use the word integrity as kind of like I would use the word “joy”. I don’t have to be filled with joy all the time and I think it would be a little bit pathological if I considered myself to have to be joyful at all times. But indeed I’m happy most of the time and I don’t get mad at myself when I’m not happy.

    Just some thoughts.


  2. The great difference with respect to a belief system such as Christianity is that, well, it’s not a belief system. “Belief” in the sense you used is belief unwarranted by reason, belief for no reason other than alleged revelations passed through the centuries to us, with all its distortions and human influences, which we opt to follow (when expedient) only because it makes us feel good. What Objectivism proposes is doing what is good based on reason, based on what fosters your life “as a man”.

    Integrity is “simply” to act accordingly to what reason tells you. Of course, first you need to use reason to come up with what you must do to foster your life. And that’s not easy.

    What tells you you are being inconsistent? If you have not decided what you must do in the situation in question, nothing. But if you have, all you need to do is look at what you’ve done and ask yourself if that’s what you had decided “on principle” that you should have done. If not, you acted inconsistently, you breached your integrity.

    What do you do? You don’t go to the nearest priest to confess and repent, that’s for sure; you evaluate why you did so, what were the consequences of your act, and make provisions to act better next time. Or, if necessary, change your principles. But that is not something you do lightly, just because you erred once. A principle is a huge integration of past actions, knowledge and values that should not be easily changed.

    “To live with integrity is exactly to live without any principles”. I disagree entirely. Principles are your rules of living based on the facts of reality processed by reason. If you don’t have any rules, you have nothing to gauge your actions by. You compare integrity with joy; I don’t think they compare. I agree with you entirely that we don’t need to have joy all the time — that’s impossible. But I do think we must have integrity all the time. It is also impossible, but it should be sought for. It’s like (I’ll attempt a crazy metaphor here) you buy a car; you don’t need to ride it and feel joy all the time, but if only a few times you turn the wheel right and the car goes to the left, you are doomed.

    That’s lack of integrity.


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